(Italian dialogue)

(Italian dialogue)

An unusual noirish tale from Bulgaria, “The Insurance” is a period thriller in which deception and power intertwine for a deft, surprising entertainment. The feature by Evgeni Mihailov is a class outing that would benefit from further fest circuit exposure and score some specialized sales in upscale markets.

Set in Sofia of the 1930s, story centers on the much feared police inspector Meranzof (Todor Kolev), who is informed by his doctor that he has inoperable cancer by his doctor. Taking it in stride, he literally shoots the messenger to erase the record of his illness and proceeds to secure a bank credit by bribing an official with the promise of sexual favors from a local prostitute. It’s all done with sang-froid and ruthless precision.

But the perfect plan has a few glitches. The prostie, Margot (Deljana Hadjiankova), has decided to leave the biz after locating her twentysomething brother, Stefo (Momchil Karamitev), in an orphanage. They find temporary lodgings in a local movie house, and the young man is hired to sell tickets.

But the reunion and new life are short-lived. Stefo is arrested when the cinema, run by a well-known Communist, is raided by the police. Margot, who watches in shocked disbelief from across the street, realizes she will have to go to Meranzof in order to win her brother’s freedom.

The relentless nature of the narrative reps the strength as well as the weakness of Alexander Tomov’s script. The story twists and turns from scene to scene as Stefo escapes his captors, Margot is tracked down and arrested by Meranzof, Stefo inadvertently kills several police officers while planning his revenge on the inspector, and so on. Mihailov piles on the incident with a breathless pace that leaves the viewer gasping to keep up with the nuances of the story and come to terms with a backdrop of rapidly changing political and social order.

Still, the cat’s-cradle intrigue clicks, and the central performances are all strong, particularly those of Kolev, who plays the police inspector as a sort of sly old fox, and Karamitev, whose naif wanders through the movie like a vulnerable and dangerous wounded animal.

“The Insurance” has a handsome dark look and rococo sets that heighten its disquieting nature. One curiosity of this Bulgarian-Italian co-production is the fact that the actors are dubbed in Italian, a result of moving the post-production work to Rome.

The Insurance

(DRAMA -- BULGARIAN-ITALIAN)

Production

A Ramdas Prods. presentation in association with Film Artists Network. Produced by Momchil Karamitev, Gabriella di Saverio. Executive producers, Joseph Cohen, Evgeni Mihailov. Directed by Evgeni Mihailov. Screenplay, Alexander Tomov.

Crew

Camera (color), Eli Mihailova, Plamen Somov; editor, Paolo Vanghetti; music, Bojidar Petkov; production designer, Boris Neshev; costume designer, Gabriella di Saverio, Eli Stojanov; sound, Maurizio Messi; casting, Veika Terzieva. Reviewed at Dances With Films Festival of the Unknowns, Santa Monica, July 27, 1998. Running time: 94 MIN.

With

Stefo Likina ..... Momchil Karamitev Inspector Meranzof ..... Todor Kolev Margot Likina ..... Deljana Hadjiankova George ..... Ilia Karaivanov Viviana ..... Plamena Ghetova
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more